Unlike my usual style of linking food to music, I chose not to do so for this review after hearing multiple commentators dismiss this album. I believe it denotes a subtle turning point in the Atlanta rap scene, and the wider rap industry as a whole, and so I will do my best to comment on why I believe it to be the case.
There aren’t many artists out there who command as much respect, as much reverence, as Gucci Mane. Miraculously dodging a murder charge in 2005 due to insufficient evidence, and with twelve other charges to his name he is an unlikely role model. Perhaps one of the only things more impressive than the length of his rap sheet (see what I did there) is his absolutely massive discography. His nine studio albums, 18 digital albums (a slightly higher quality mixtape that is often charged for), 49 mixtapes, and a soundtrack speak volumes for his work ethic. One legend claims on the day of his release Gucci travelled straight to the studio where he recorded six songs, before attending a party that evening.
This work ethic has been reflected in his latest release. Since Gucci has been out of jail he’s managed to record an entirely new album that reflects how, maybe this time, he really has no intention of returning ever again. Everybody Looking is a turning point for Gucci. For the first time in his life, he looks healthy. The first time I saw his video for “Guwop Home”, I wouldn’t have recognized him if it wasn’t for his distinctive facial tattoo. He’s lost so much weight, he sounds different, and yet his trademark flourishes; his uncommon flow, remains.
More than anything else his new verses are filled with a hunger, a mad desperation to get his message across. With sparse but huge features from Kanye, Drake, and Young Thug, Gucci flexes his influence and helps deliver some incredibly potent verses.
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Before we can even begin to discuss why this is such an important album for the southern rap scene, it’s important to discuss just how influential Gucci is to the scene and that rap genre as a whole. His style, something he’s cultivated since 2005, has been a huge factor in the way other artists rap. Without Gucci people like Young Thug and Waka Flocka wouldn’t exist. His incredibly early adoption of producers Zaytoven and Mike Will Made It has helped propel them into successful positions and played a part in the way trap-style beats are used in modern rap. He helped shape the Atlanta sound of the early 2000s, a sound that has been entering the wider pop scene in recent years.
It is this sense of deification that’s been kept in mind with this album. Gucci recognizes his influence not only towards other musicians but to the wider community as a whole. “1st Day Out Tha Feds” muses on his prior actions, and the influence they have had on those close to him: “I did some things to some people that was down right evil / Is it karma coming back to me, so much drama / My own mama turned her back on me, and that’s my mama / I lost three people close to me in one summer.”
Yet despite this subtle shift in subject matter and heightened awareness of his own actions, Gucci manages to create an album that those in the wider Atlanta community can relate to. He speaks to the young, urbanized, downtrodden, and marginalized African American inhabitants of the South: those who see drug dealing as a legitimate escape from the unfair situation they have been dealt by society.
Now that Gucci is not glorifying his drug selling past as heavily as he used to, it would be fair to assume that the quality of his output has degraded. Intoxication and art have gone hand in hand for a long time, with artists like Bowie, Winehouse, and Cobain producing some of their best work under the influence. It’s a staple subject matter for a huge number of artists, and some have commented that the glorification of dealing in rap is a social issue. It’s important to note that they exist as some use it as an excuse to delegitimize the genre.
But this is by far the best Gucci album I have ever heard. There’s a fervent respect for the empire that he has helped to create, but a determined attempt to make something that helps point out the downsides of the lifestyle it glorifies without sounding condescending or fake.
This is not something I will ever be able to accurately comment on. While I can speculate, this is not an album that was made for me. I’m a white guy who grew up in New Zealand. Our life experiences, our situations, are worlds apart. It’s a situation that very, very few reading this review—shit, this magazine—will ever be able to relate to, and that’s perhaps what makes it so important. Instead of trying to change the world, he’s trying to make music that speaks to those who need it most, and he makes it sound fucking good while he’s at it.